One of the few things that I hold to be irrevocably sentimental to me is my grandma Nellie’s old plastic sewing box. (I’ve written before about a broken, rusty nail associated with her husband, my grandpa Willie, being the other highly sentimental thing I own.)
(This is a picture from around the time my grandma Nellie first taught me to sew.)
I don’t remember exactly how I ended up with grandma’s old sewing box. I remember Grandma joking that I could have it when she died, but that was sometime around 1975, a 1/4 of a century before she died. (She also promised me a nifty little pocketknife.) Someone probably remembered the hours and hours that I spent sewing with grandma and the stories I used to tell about it. After grandma died, I had forgotten about it. Whoever that someone was passed along grandma’s sewing box to my mom and then my mom gave it to me. I used to remember where grandma originally acquired the sewing box, because I asked her. But so many years have elapsed and now no one remembers the story.
When I was around 4, I would sit at grandma’s feet and either watch tv, read the TV Guide, or doodle. Many times, grandma would sit in her chair and sew. She would have been around 60 then, which seemed very, very old to me back in those days. Now that I’m not more than a decade from encroaching the same milestone, it seems downright young. Grandma had trouble sometimes threading the needle, both due to her eyesight and shaking. I don’t know why she finally relented and asked me to thread a needle for her, but she did. I pricked my finger very badly a couple of times but finally managed to work the thread into the needle. Grandma could be very cautious, but she wasn’t one to worry needlessly about me hurting myself with a needle. She was the type who knew that while she didn’t want me to hurt myself, that learning to thread a needle basically required getting stuck once or twice.
Over the next few years, she taught me to sew a hem and do a few basic stitches. She also taught me to be able to sit still and concentrate on something constructive. I could sit and stitch for an hour without thinking about being bored or whether the thread was straight. I simply enjoyed it for what it was. It didn’t occur to me later that sewing was something that wasn’t supposed to be done by boys. Even with sewing, my grandpa didn’t make fun of me for it. He saw that I enjoyed it and knew that any boy learning to sew was learning something useful that would last for the rest of his life.
I’ll never forget being in Home Economics class in junior high. I was with Jason, already a sports jock. We were tasked with sewing the outline of a turtle. Without thinking, I threaded the needle and had sewn almost half the outline before realizing that other people were just getting their threads through the eye of their needles. For once, instead of being the clumsy doofus, I was the one with a skill, even if it was something as mundane as sewing. It surprised me that other people had trouble with it.
Through my life I’ve sewn pillows, shirts, curtains and even headbands. None of them were done with expertise, but all were done with a sense of purpose and fun. I can’t sew for very long without thinking of being at my grandma’s feet, sewing.